There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord you God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

Exodus 15:25-26

 

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that you youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

                                                                                  Psalm 103:2-5

 

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

                                                                                  Malachi 4:2

 

 

The inspired writers of the Old Testament knew God as Healer. Their inspired words introduce God to us as Creator and Redeemer and as the “Lord who heals”. Progressively the Spirit of God revealed Himself to humanity through His divine acts and Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament writers were inspired by God to write of God’s greatness and power, of His holiness and knowledge, and of His love and mercy.

 

The Old Testament is an inspired collection of inspired books and the genius of God’s inspiration is that the writings relate practically to our lives lived in this fallen world. Through the thirty-nine books that comprise the Old Testament Canon, only four books have no reference to sickness, pain, or healing.[1] Most have repeated references to disease, sickness, pain, and, even when healing experiences are not found in the book, the subject of healing is mentioned. In these inspired books the Spirit of God instructs us concerning the presence of God to comfort the afflicted, the power of God to heal, the purpose of God to use sicknesses to work His plan, and the promise of God to one day eradicate all suffering. The Old Testament anticipates a day of victory, inaugurated by the Anointed One, the Messiah, in which complete healing will be experienced on a broad scale.

 

A common error that some students of the Bible make is to be selective and inconsistent in their interpretation of the Bible. They often remove a Scriptural text from its context and give it a meaning that it could not have originally and should not be given today. In order to properly interpret a certain passage of Scripture we need to see what part of salvation history it comes from and then to understand it in light of the historical and cultural situation it came from. Two common errors in understanding Old Testament promises about healing are (1) failure to see them in light of the Mosaic Covenant promises and (2) trying to give disease and healing twenty-first century interpretations instead of seeing the concepts in light of the historical situation and viewing them from the perspective of the biblical authors.

 

The Mosaic Covenant. The promise of health must be understood in light of all the conditional promises for Israel under the Mosaic covenant. The condition to receive health and blessings were laid down clearly in Leviticus 26:1-46 and Deut. 28:1-68. The Israelites were to “fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands” (Deut. 28:1).  The commands of God were not just the Ten Commandments that we are so familiar with, but included numerous other commands.  Along with the promises of healings and health came numerous other commands, such as the commands to destroy the nations of Canaan, Deut. 7:1-19, and to apply these commands in a New Testament setting will result in considerable damage to New Testament theology. Israel had a unique relationship with God that cannot be entirely duplicated by the New Testament Church.

 

God spoke through Paul to explain that the Mosaic Covenant, commonly called “The Law” in the New Testament, was for those “under the Law” (Romans 3:19).  In other words, the Law was specific and limited in its commands and promises. The Law was an agreement with one people, the nation of Israel, for one time. The requirements and the promises were for the whole nation and the entire nation was to obey and would enjoy the blessings. Through the Mosaic Covenant came the awareness of sin and not the victory over it (Romans 3:20). Israel could not live up to the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, so the nation did not receive the promises, although they did sporadically enjoy them from time to time due to the benevolent nature of God.

 

When Christ died on Calvary’s cross, He cancelled the Mosaic Law, He made the Mosaic Covenant obsolete, canceling it with His perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 8:13). We can no longer claim those promises since the agreement has been cancelled. To attempt to claim those promises is like trying to cash a cheque written against a cancelled bank account.

 

That the Mosaic Covenant was cancelled became a contentious, divisive problem for the New Testament churches. Much of the New Testament was written explaining that in Christ Jesus a New Covenant has been inaugurated. God spoke in Hebrews that something was wrong with the first covenant, which was why He said He would make a New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-12). Partial obedience was not good enough to secure the promised blessings. God said through Paul,

 

All who rely on observing the law [to establish their own righteousness or justify themselves before God] are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” [Deut. 27:26]. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” [Hab. 2:4].  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them” [Lev. 18:5]. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Galatians 3:10-13a

 

Yet even today some people have tried to return to the Old Testament to claim those covenant promises.

 

Certainly many of the promises in the Old Testament are still in effect today. The promises of God’s watchcare over His people reveal to us the heart of the God – He is a kind and loving heavenly Father. No less than David a Christian can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  The New Testament explained that the Old Testament events were written to teach us, “So that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). By studying the Mosaic Law we learn about the holiness of God. By observing how God interacted with the nation of Israel and individuals in the Old Testament we learn about God’s character and man’s character as well. God’s dealings with the Israelites serve as examples for us today (1 Cor. 10:6,11). But we need the wisdom of the New Testament teachings and the Holy Spirit to help us to understand which promises are for us today and which should be understood to have been limited and for the nation of Israel only.

 

There is a Christ-centered unity to the entire Bible. The events surrounding the Mosaic Covenant spoke of Christ (Luke 24:44). Christ said that the Scriptures, the Old Testament, testified of Him (John 5:39). The law was proclaimed to have been a shadow of the good things that are ours in Christ and the future blessings to come (Hebrews 10:1). When Bible students try to return to the Old Testament Law and its conditional promises they will, perhaps unwittingly, ignore the superior blessings that God promises us in Christ and even deny and pervert the Christ-centered purpose of the Old Testament. To properly understand the Old Testament and the conditional promises of God in The Law, believers need to see the Mosaic Covenant in light of the New Covenant of grace.

 

The Old Testament Cultural Realities. Protestant and Evangelical Christians have espoused a method of Biblical interpretation called the Grammatical-historical Method. This means basically that we understand the Bible in light of the biblical culture in which it was written. A classic example of the importance of this is the way we interpret the command of Romans 16:16: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It was customary in that day for people to kiss one another in public as a form of greeting, but it is not the custom everywhere today. We understand this command to mean that we should warmly and in a holy manner greet one another in Christ, not that we must literally kiss each other when we meet. We are more concerned with fulfilling the spirit of the command than legalistically applying it. But, again, this calls for wisdom, for if we are not careful we can “spiritualize” every command in the New Testament and do damage to the intended message as well as its intended application.

 

In understanding the Old Testament concepts surrounding sickness we need to remember that the Israelites were predominantly a rural people familiar with farming and caring for animals.  They were also accustomed to caring for one another when they became sick. Hospitals were unknown to them. Their medicines were simple and only somewhat effective for treating illnesses. Even a simple wound, that is automatically treatable with antibiotic ointment or pills today, could become life threatening. They did not have the scientific understanding of diseases, of bacteria and viruses that we have today. This fact makes the commands regarding the treatment of discharges, human waste, and the handling of dead bodies even more miraculous.  Sicknesses were viewed more as a symptom of a larger problem, that they had displeased God in someway and that the world was under a curse. We need to let the people of the Old Testament speak like people of their time and not expect that they will share the precise view we have in this day.  That is not to say that what they say was said in error, not at all, but that it was said from their cultural perspective and not ours.

 

The neighbors of ancient Israel, notably Egypt and Syria, had a significant amount of medical knowledge and both possessed classes of physicians. Although much of their knowledge, as we will see later, was incorrect, a significant amount was helpful. Israel, however, did not develop such a class of physicians for the most part. Scant references to physicians do appear (examples, Jeremiah mentions them in Jeremiah 8:22 and Asa turned to physicians in 2 Chron. 16:12), but mainly the people lived without a special class of Israelite physicians. Their medicines were typically animal and vegetable substances, the knowledge of which was handed down from generation to generation. But as herdsmen and shepherds, they knew well how to care for their animals.

 

In the Old Testament view of sickness, “there was a tendency in all serious sickness to fall back on the religious ritual, and ultimately on the divine providence.”[2] Today modern man typically errs on the other side of this argument, forgetting about God and seeking strictly a scientific explanation. But, as mentioned in the first chapter, since we can easily trace a significant number of physical problems to human attitude and behavior, we ignore the connection between moral behavior and diseases to our own peril. The Israelite viewed everything under the sun as happening by the hand or permission of God, sicknesses included. This is theologically correct and does not mean that God cannot bring healing through the use of medicines. Sickness typically was an indication of a lack of soundness and healing meant wholeness. In sickness, as in battle or even building a house, they prepared and did their best to treat the sick one but placed their ultimate trust in God.[3]

 

 

The Teachings of Healing in the Old Testament

 

More often than not, the miracles of the Old Testament were great signs and wonders and not miraculous healings. God sent plagues, provided a dry path through the sea, provided water and Manna, and other such great acts.  In the Old Testament many more people were recorded as being struck dead by God than miraculously healed by Him.  Sicknesses were often sent by Him to punish people and bring repentance and humility. He promised protection from disease for obedience but relatively rarely do we find anyone healed from any disease in the Old Testament.

 

But there were a few. Those who were healed in the Old Testament include the following:

 

o   Genesis 20:17, God healed Abimelech in answer to Abraham’s prayers.

o   1 Samuel 1:17, Hannah’s barrenness was possibly cured through her prayer and the affirmation of Eli.

o   2 Kings 4:8-37, the Shunammite widow’s barrenness was seemingly cured and her son clearly raised from the dead.

o   2 Kings 20:1-11, Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:1-22. Hezekiah’s prayer as recorded in Isaiah is a moving prayer, acknowledging his weakness, seeing his life as a weaver’s rug that was almost cut off from the loom before it was finished. He also says, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish” (38:17). It is also noteworthy that Isaiah had recommended that a poultice of figs be applied to his boil – medical treatment – and that God was still credited with the healing.

o   2 Chronicles 30:20, God healed the people who came unprepared to the Passover celebration through the prayers of Hezekiah.

o   Psalm 21:4, 116:3-8, possibly David was deathly ill at one time and then was healed but short of other testimony it is hard to be sure. Possibly he was referring to his persecution by Saul, and even Davidic authorship of Psalm 116 is unclear.

 

Yet if we look at the issue of healing as expressed in the Old Testament we find a considerable amount of material making it an important emphasis of the Old Testament.

 

In Exodus 15:26 Jehovah was introduced to the nation of Israel as “The Lord who heals you” (Jehovah Rophe, the Hebrew word rapa is related to rophe). This title of God was announced during a time of crisis. The Israelites on their exodus from Egypt had wandered for three days in the wilderness without finding drinkable water. Quite predictably, the people complained, Moses prayed, and God answered. He told Moses to take a stick of wood and throw it into the “bitter” (undrinkable) waters of Marrah and “the water became sweet” (drinkable). God then made a decree for them that must be understood in light of the Mosaic Covenant promises.

 

There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord you God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep al his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.” (Exodus 15:25b-26)

 

The promise indicated God’s desire to heal His people. He mentioned the diseases that He brought upon the Egyptians. Perhaps the first reaction we might have to this verse is that God referred to the plagues of judgment that loosened Pharaoh’s hand on the Israelites, the plagues that He brought upon the Egyptians. But the plagues were called “acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:4) or “plagues” (9:14), never “diseases” (mehelahu).  Most probably God referred to the common diseases that were known to proliferate in Egypt, particularly through the unclean water and unsanitary practices of preparing food. This is further supported by the later statement of God to the nation regarding the practices of the Canaanite people around them.

 

Worship the Lord you God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (Exodus 23:25-26)

 

S. I. McMillen, in his excellent book None of These Diseases, documented the many diseases and the inadequate treatments of the Egyptians and how the laws of the Mosaic Covenant saved the Israelites from becoming disease ridden. There is no explanation for the wisdom of these laws except the hand of Almighty God, revealing His wisdom to Moses. God saved them from the many diseases of the Egyptians by instructing them on such subjects as how to handle dead bodies, how to deal with someone who had a bloody discharge, how to deal with human waste, and other such pertinent subjects.

 

Although there was a class of physicians in Egypt, many of their practices were dangerous. For example, according to the Papyrus Ebers, a medical book written in Egypt about 1552 B.C., the best way to treat an imbedded splinter was with worms’ blood and donkey feces.  Since the fecal matter of mammals carries a considerable amount of tetanus it is no wonder that lockjaw was a common problem.[4] Common drugs used by the most trained physicians of Egypt included: lizards’ blood, swine’s teeth, putrid meat, stinking fat, moisture from pigs’ ears, donkey hooves, animal fats from various sources, and the excreta from different animals, including humans, dogs, donkeys, antelope, cats, and even flies.[5]

 

The divinely inspired advice of the Mosaic Covenant covered such topics as sanitary conditions around the camp (where to put the toilet, Deuteronomy 23:12-13), how to handle dead bodies, proper sexual relations, among many other subjects. Consider how God’s divinely inspired advice would have made a significant difference for the Israelites over 3,000 years ago as you read this story quoted below from Dr. McMillen.

 

Let me give an example by citing what happened in Vienna in the 1840’s, when the Viennese were feasting on the superb waltzes of Johann Strauss and his son.

           Vienna was also famous as a medical center. Let us look in on one of the famous teaching hospitals of that day, Allegemeine Krakenhaus. In the maternity wards of this celebrated hospital, one out of every six women died, and this frightening mortality rate was similar in other hospitals around the world. The obstetricians ascribed the deaths to constipation, delayed lactation, fear, and poisonous air.

           When the women died, they were wheeled into the autopsy room. The first order of each morning was the entrance of the physicians and medical students into the morgue to perform autopsies on the unfortunate victims who had died during the preceding twenty-four hours. Afterward, without cleansing their hands, the doctors with their retinue of students marched into the maternity wards to make pelvic examinations on the living women. Of course, no rubber gloves were worn.

           In the early 1840’s … a young doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis was given charge over one of the obstetrical wards. He observed that it was particularly the women who were examined by the teachers and students who became sick and died. After watching this heartbreaking situation for three years, he established a rule that, in his ward, every physician and medical student who had participated in the autopsies of the dead must carefully wash his hands before examining the living maternity patients.[6]

 

The result was that the mortality rate in his ward was immediately and drastically lowered, from one in six dying to one in eighty-four. Of course, God had already given His advice on the handling of dead bodies in Numbers 19:11. This is typical of the helpful accurate advice of the Mosaic Covenant that if the Israelites followed it, they would not have the diseases of the Egyptians. In light of the advice given for prevention of disease, the historical context of these commands, the promise of healing in Exodus 15:26 needs to be understood primarily in the area of prevention of disease. 

 

Further examination of Old Testament passages about healing will indicate not only confidence in the power of God to heal, but also a broad view of the concepts of sickness and healing that stretch far beyond merely what we commonly identify as physical sicknesses.  The healing that was promised in the Mosaic covenant was a broad-based offer of healing and included the land, the cattle, diseases, and emotional and spiritual problems as well.

 

Perhaps one of the most interesting conditional promises under the Mosaic covenant was recorded in Exodus 23:26, “I will give you a full life span” (NIV). The RSV and the NKJV translate this, “I will fulfill the number of your days.” The phrase in Hebrew is very simple, misepar yamiyed emalea. Emalea means “full” and misepar means “number”. Literally, “The number of your days I will fulfill.” The question is whether this related to the curse of limited life span of 120 years before the flood mentioned in Genesis 6:3 or if it was a general reference to a long life. Since nothing else in the Mosaic covenant seemed to mention this and that even later the life span was further limited (Psalm 90:10, Isaiah 23:15) suggests and may be even forces the interpretation that this was a general reference to a long life and not a promise to a certain number of years. Usually Charismatics will apply this verse teaching that if we have enough faith God guarantees us that we will live to reach seventy. Trying to make this apply to today in this fashion is to ignore the basic interpretation problems regarding the Mosaic Covenant[7]. 

 

The Old Testament makes the following points on sickness and healing.

 

The Old Testament Affirms the Healing Power of God.  In Psalm 103:3, God is described as the One who heals all our diseases. The Old Testament announced that God is a healer. This verse does raise many questions and even theological problems that need to be worked out for we all ultimately die. William MacDonald has a good response to this verse and a summation of his observations are given below.

 

·        Healing follows forgiveness in the text (Psalm 103:3) and many sicknesses are the results of sin. When sins are confessed and forgiveness received, then healing may begin.

·        All genuine healing is from God. In this sense we have all experienced divine healing.

·        All diseases are curable by God, that is, there is no disease that is beyond the hand of God to cure.

·        The Lord may heal naturally, through a physician, or instantaneously.

·        The Lord, while He was on earth, healed all who were brought to Him.

·        In the Millennium He will heal all people (Isaiah 33:24, Jer. 30:17), except those who rebel against Him (Isaiah 65:20b).[8]

 

Faith in God results in practical blessings for the believer. The strong Old Testament testimony to the reality of God as a healing God invites us to see God as the One who can help us today in our infirmities and to come to Him in our times of need. Whatever the nature of our need for healing – whether spiritual, emotional, physical, or social – we can bring our requests to God. These stories and testimonies in the Bible exist to help us see God as He truly is. He is a holy and compassionate God who is on our side and who promised ultimate complete healing of all that ails us. With that knowledge, with faith in God as He is presented in the Bible, we do not need another display of His power and compassion to explain to us who He is – we already know who He is from the divinely inspired book we call the Bible! He does not always choose to bring physical healing but He always brings some spiritual healing when we call on Him in faith.

 

The Old Testament Had a Broad View of the Concepts of Sickness of Healing. This fact is often overlooked, that sickness or disease were general descriptions of the problems of this world as a result of sin and did not have the limited “clinical” definition we like to give it today. Healing also had this broader concept of salvation in general. We may think of it as wholeness rather than only healing. The problem of sin went deep in human hearts and society and the solution must be radical. The remedy they longed for was complete and total healing of everything that was out of order and out of step with God’s will. Examples of this in the Old Testament are numerous, too many to deal with even half of them here.

 

There are numerous references to the physical earth being healed. 2 Chronicles 7:14, for example, a favorite verse of many, ends with the promise of God, “I will heal their land.”  In spite of the fact that “land” in this verse is often preached upon to mean “the nation”, the context, especially the preceding verse, makes it clearly a specific reference to the farm land that God had afflicted with drought and locusts. That in the Hebrew mind even land can be “healed” (rapa was used) helps us to see the broader picture of the concepts of healing and sickness. This was, in fact, a reaffirmation of the promise of God in the Mosaic Covenant to restore their agricultural lands into productive condition if the people repent (Leviticus 26:40-42).

 

The psalmist said that God heals the broken-hearted (Psalm 147:3), recognizing that there is an illness that is emotional in nature (rophe or rapa was also used). In the context of the psalm, the psalmist referred to those who experienced the Babylonian exile, whose hearts and hopes had been crushed. The cries from the psalmist echoed from the hearts of those who endured the sufferings that God had warned against through Moses – pending disaster for the nation for disobedience. Yet we see God’s healing hand at work throughout the Bible helping people who are broken-hearted over life’s disappointments. Many believe that the reference in Psalm 23, “He anoints my head with oil,” was a reference to the shepherd’s use of oil as an ointment to heal head wounds on sheep. God does that for the soul as well.

 

The prophets frequently used sickness and infirmity symbolically to describe the result of sin. Isaiah, for example, described the problem of Israel in terms of sickness.

 

Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart is afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. Isaiah 1:4-6

 

This was typical of the way the Old Testament described sin, associating it with sickness and salvation with healing.  Elsewhere Isaiah wrote:

 

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. Isaiah 6:10

The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted. Isaiah 30:26

 

There is a clear parallel between Isaiah 1:5-6 and 53:4-5. Through Isaiah, in these two passages, God was referring to sin and its impact. Later Matthew linked the Isaiah 53:5 passage to physical healing (Matthew 8:17), so the passage included but was not limited to physical illnesses. (This is discussed in more detail in the next chapter.) The message to the Israelites was that their sufferings that resulted from their own sins would not actually take away their sins. Another one, the Anointed One, would have to be injured, and wounded for them to experience forgiveness and healing.

 

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6

 

The Hebrew words for “beaten”, “injured”, and “welts”, in 1:5-6, were used again in 53:4-5, for “smitten”, “infirmities”, and “wounds”.  It is clear that in 53:4-6 Isaiah was using the terms “by his wounds we are healed” to make a general reference to the problems this world has as a result of sin.  All of that was laid on Christ but by His suffering the problem of sin has been resolved. More will be said about Isaiah 53:5 later.

 

Isaiah was not alone in this use of sickness and healing to describe sin and salvation. For example, Jeremiah wrote:

 

Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror. Jeremiah 14:19 (also 8:15)

 

Jeremiah made much of this image, comparing sin to sickness and forgiveness to healing, as he also wrote

 

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Jeremiah 8:22

 

Possibly the best example of this is found in chapter 30 where Jeremiah, stressing the seriousness of sin, likened it to an incurable disease, an infected wound full of foul discharges.

 

This is what the Lord says: “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you. I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many. Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you…But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 30:12-17

 

Ezekiel also used sickness and healing in this concept of a general description to what was wrong with the world and to the salvation of God. The shepherds of Israel were condemned because they did not offer any healing to the sick, Ezekiel 34:4. In light of the passages that compare sin to sickness this statement was most surely a condemnation of the lack of spiritual ministry among the people, reminding them of the Mosaic Covenant conditions and calling the people to repent and return to God. As in Isaiah, Ezekiel proclaimed that the Lord will accomplish what man could not accomplish. The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) and the description of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10) both mirror these words from Ezekiel:

 

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. Ezekiel 34:11-12

 

Ezekiel went further and described a time of ultimate healing and security – the Millennium – when the nation of Israel is reunited and gathered to a restored Palestine and the Resurrected Christ shall “shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:16).

 

In Ezekiel 47:8 the waters of the Salt Sea are described as being “healed” (NIV “fresh” but rapa was used) – another reference to the earth itself being healed. This wonderful passage has often been used, with good success, to demonstrate the work of the Spirit in a believer’s life. I am one who believes that Jesus made reference to this passage when He spoke about the water welling up to eternal life in the believer, or the Spirit of God’s work in our lives (John 4:14). Rapa was also used in 47:11-12 to describe the leaves of the fruit trees that will grow along the banks of this fresh body of water. I take this as a prophecy about the Millennium where Christ shall rule, but it also provides a picture of the Spirit’s work in the believer’s life.  Notice that the source of the fresh water is from underneath the sanctuary and it overflows into the Salt Sea and heals the sea. What a wonderful picture of the grace of God in Christ Jesus that flows from the Sanctuary of God on high, into our hearts and lives and out into the hurting people of this world!

 

The Old Testament Recommended Preventative Healthcare. Psalm 34:12-16, quoted later in 1 Peter 3:10, gave good helpful advice for enjoying a long life through maintaining healthy atittudes. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament placed a significant emphasis on health and physical well-being. Faith and one’s emotional state of mind were linked together as promoting healthy living and preventing disease. For examples…

 

·        Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body.  Proverbs 3:7-8a

·        A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. Proverbs 12:4

·        A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30

·        A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones, Proverbs 15:30

·        A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

 

The Old Testament Did Not Always View Sickness or Death as the Result of Sinful Living. Before we leave wisdom literature, we must look briefly at the story of Job to gain a true picture of the Old Testament’s teaching on sickness and healing. Job’s story is an intriguing tale. He was a righteous man yet in spite of that calamity befell him. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a short time. Three friends showed up to get him to confess to whatever sin he committed so that God would forgive him and heal him. Job endured their accusations and urgings to repent with grace, but then he questioned God and God responded as the Almighty and silenced Job. Basically God said to Job that he cannot understand His ways and that God is not compelled to explain Himself to man. We must trust Him explicitly. God then rebuked the three friends for making false statements about Him and doubting the integrity of His servant Job. Job prayed for them and God restored his fortunes.

 

Several divine lessons for us come from this book, perhaps the most obvious is that we cannot presume that all sickness is a result of someone’s sin. Neither can we presume that all lack of healing is because of a lack of faith. In fact, it was because of Job’s faith that he attracted Satan’s attention and not because he lacked faith. Satan said to God that Job worshipped God not because He was worthy of worship but for what he (Job) could get out of it. According to Satan, Job’s faith was merely a matter of convenience, a return on his investment. There is great mystery regarding why some people suffer horrendous trials and others have relatively easy lives. These are matters we need to leave in God’s hands.

 

Isaiah also gave us a very important verse concerning the deaths of the young.

 

The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. Isaiah 57:1-2

 

This passage answered the question of why God allowed the good to die young. The answer is that God desires to spare them from trouble on earth. This entirely twists the argument around – that the righteous are always blessed with good health – until it is facing the opposite direction, and probably gave birth to the saying, “Only the good die young.”  (Those of us enjoying long lives may be said to be too mean to die young!) As with Job, it is entirely erroneous to presume that sickness and even death are the results of sinful behavior.

 

The Old Testament Was Concerned About the Poor.  Remembering that poverty is a significant source of the spread of disease and human misery in general, we need to know the significance the Old Testament gives to this issue. The Mosaic Covenant commanded that the poor should not be deprived of justice in the courts (Exod. 23:6). In harvesting their crops the people were commanded to leave some of the crop unharvested to help the poor (Lev. 19:9-10). They were not to withhold wages from the poor laborer but pay him daily before sunset because he was “counting on it” (Deut. 24:14-15). The Lord proclaimed Himself the protector of the poor and warned of His vengeance against the one who would abuse impoverished, vulnerable, helpless people (Psalm 72:4). As Hannah said of God, He redeems and raises the poor from their poverty and sits them among princes (1 Sam. 2:7-8). God promised blessings to the one who remembers the poor and acts justly on their behalf (Psalm 41:1).  God also promised to hear the prayers of the poor no less than the prayers of the wealthy (Psalm 34:6).

 

Although some commands regarding the poor were specifically for their fellow Hebrew, that often the alien was mentioned alongside the poor made the Israelite’s responsibility toward the deprived extend to all peoples of the world and not just their fellow Hebrew. They were also to help the poor man leave his poverty (Lev. 25:35). Moses observed that there would always be poor in the land, but this was not to inspire hopelessness, apathy, and callousness, but rather because of the continual presence of the poor they were commanded to continually help the poor: “be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:10).

 

Summary on the Old Testament’s Teachings on Sickness and Healing

 

The Old Testament world enjoyed a holistic worldview without the division of soul and spirit and body. Sickness of the body indicated sickness of the soul and that the world, or sometimes the individual, was under the judgment of God. Sickness was not something that happened outside of other experiences of life, rather sickness of any kind that existed in God’s creation revealed the fallenness of the created order.  The Old Testament used the word rapa in a variety of settings to emphasize that the entire sin problem of humanity could find remedy in God and God alone.

 

The Old Testament anticipated the Messianic Age where full healing would be experienced. That God offered healing was an announcement of hope. This healing must be total healing for if sickness concerns us even when we are not the one ill, so healing should speak to the entire human condition. Messiah will be the One through whom healing on a broad scale will occur. This Messianic healing will be complete healing: physical, emotional, social, and, most importantly, spiritual, even healing of the land. He will come fulfilling what was lacking among the shepherds of Israel (Ezekiel 34:4).

 

There are two environments in which complete Messianic healing will occur: (a) Millennial healing (Isaiah 33:24; 65:20; Ezekiel 34:11-16) and (b) permanent and complete healing in His eternal Kingdom (Isaiah 53:5, Malachi 4:2). Yet even before the Messianic healing comes in completeness, partial experiences of healing, much like the Spirit’s down payment of Himself in our lives, will be widespread. Malachi prophesied, “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings,” the wings being the early streaks of the sun in the morning twilight. So some healing will be experienced – social, emotional, spiritual, and physical – prior to the full expression of the Messianic Kingdom.


[1] Those four books would be Ezra, Esther, Song of Solomon, and Haggai. Yet in their contexts, in different ways, the fact of sickness, infirmities, and pain and the need for healing are presumed.

[2] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody, 1957, “Diseases”, p. 268.

[3] Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” This was the attitude of the faithful in Israel about everything in life, that God held the secret to success or failure. Man’s part was to do his best and not put the Lord to the test (Exodus 17:2, Deut. 6:16).

[4] S.I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, Fleming Revel, 1968, p. 9.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. p. 13-14.

[7] The truth is that virtually none of us is willing to accept our death immediately upon turning seventy, three score and ten. We cannot have it both ways. If we interpret this as guaranteeing seventy years then like Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, we may have our “pound of flesh” but only a pound, no more. If God is, in this passage (Psalm 90:10), guaranteeing seventy years to people of faith (eighty if we have the strength), then He is also insisting that no one should live past eighty. But, such an interpretation is faulty along several lines. The passage of Psalm 90:10, a psalm of Moses, was merely a general reference to the observance of what was a typical “long” life span. 

[8] William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, Nelson Publishers, 1995, p. 704.

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